Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO
3rd Sunday of Lent
Ex 17:3-7; Rm 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
“I thirst.” (Jn 19:28) Such were the words of Jesus upon the cross. Thirst is very much the theme of our readings today. The Israelites thirsted in the desert. Jesus was thirsty as he sat at the well with the Samaritan woman. This thirst for water, though, is only symbolic of a much deeper thirst – a thirst on the part of God for souls, and a thirst on the part of souls for God. Much of the time, our fellow human beings are vaguely aware of this thirst, but they’re trying to satisfy it with the wrong things. Only God can satisfy this thirst he planted in our hearts.
Jesus loved this Samaritan woman deeply. He was much more interested in her soul than her water. When the disciples returned with food, he couldn’t care less. His hunger and thirst had been satiated in a deeper way by connecting on a spiritual level with this woman. And this woman had been thirsting for something on this deeper, spiritual level all her life. In her confusion, she had sought to satisfy it with men and other things. Only now, in talking to Jesus, did the scales fall away from her eyes. She was so overjoyed and ecstatic that she ran back to share this wonderful discovery with her fellow-townspeople.
The more we move away from self-centeredness, the more joy we will have. Our motivation for doing things needs to move away from “What will make me happy?” to “What will make God happy?” and “What will make my neighbor happy?” Our own happiness will then flow from that as a byproduct. A preoccupation of God’s is the salvation of souls. He doesn’t want to see any of his beloved children lost. But he can’t force his will on them and violate the free will he so generously gave them.
If we really love our fellow human beings, we will want to get them connected with God – the only thing that will give them true satisfaction and fulfillment. When we look around, we see so many people rushing headlong to hell because of their hedonistic, selfish lifestyles. It just makes sense to do everything we can, in the way of sacrifices and prayers and love, to save souls. The way God has things rigged up, our prayers and sacrifices and the offering of his merits can gain the grace of conversion for other souls. When we team up with God, we can accomplish something that God can’t accomplish by himself. He wants it to be like that. He wants us to have the eternal joy of helping others get to heaven.
In the monastery here, we have a practice of reading a special “Lenten Book” each evening at a set time. These books are handed out to us on the first Sunday of Lent. This year I chose to reread The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. She’s one of my heroes. A passage I read this past week fits well into the theme of our readings today, and she even references the Samaritan woman at the well. This rather lengthy quote tells about something that happened when Therese was 14. I’m sure most of us have heard it before, but her way of telling it is so touching that it deserves a “rerun”. She writes:
As I closed my Missal after Mass one Sunday, a picture of the Crucifixion slipped out a little way and I could just see one of the wounds in Our Lord’s hands, with blood flowing from it. A strange new thrill passed over me. It pierced my heart with sorrow to see His Precious Blood falling, with no one bothering to catch it, and I made up my mind, there and then, to stay in spirit at the foot of the Cross, to gather up the dew of heavenly life and give it to others.
The cry of Jesus as He died, “I thirst”, echoed every moment in my soul, inflaming my heart with a burning love. I longed to satisfy His thirst for souls; I was consumed myself with this same thirst, and yearned to save them from the everlasting fires of hell, no matter what the cost. Then Jesus stirred up my love even more by letting me see how pleased He was with these longings of mine.
I had been hearing people talk about a notorious criminal called Pranzini, who had been condemned to death for several brutal murders, and as he was unrepentant it was thought he was going to lose his soul. I longed to save him from this final tragedy, but though I did use every spiritual means in my power, I knew that by myself there was nothing I could do to ransom him; and so I offered for him Our Lord’s infinite merits and all the treasures of the Church.
Needless to say, deep down in my heart I was sure that he would be reprieved, but I wanted some encouragement to go on in my search for souls, so I said very simply: “My God, I am sure You are going to forgive this wretched Pranzini, and I have so much confidence in Your mercy that I shall go on being sure even though he does not go to confession, or show any sign at all of being sorry; but because he is my first sinner, please give me just one sign to let me know”.
He answered me to the letter. Father never used to let me read the papers, but I didn’t think I was being disobedient when I rushed to La Croix the day after he was executed and turned to the bit about Pranzini. Guess what I found! I was so moved that tears came to my eyes and I had to rush out of the room. He had gone to the scaffold without confession or absolution, and was being led to the block by the executioner when he suddenly turned round. The priest had been holding out a crucifix to him, and as if moved by some inspiration, he had seized it and kissed the Sacred Wounds three times.
This was my sign, and it touched me very much since it had been the sight of the blood flowing from one of these very wounds that had given me my thirst for souls. I had wanted to give them His Precious Blood to drink to wash their sins away, and here was my “first-born” pressing his lips to His wounds. What a wonderful answer!
After this, my desire to save souls grew day by day. Our Lord seemed to be whispering to me, “Give Me to drink”, as He did to the woman of Samaria, and so, hoping to quench his thirst, I poured out his Blood on souls, and offered them to Him refreshed with this dew of Calvary, exchanging love for love.
Brothers and sisters, may we have the same zealous love for God and love for souls that inflamed the heart of St. Therese.